Computer-Assisted Translation Systems Versus Machine Translation

Computer-Assisted Translation Systems Versus Machine Translation

What’s the difference and why does it matter? We’re all familiar with Google Translate and have probably used it at one point or another. But do we really know what’s behind it and what the language industry makes of automated translation tools? If you’re an individual or a company stakeholder considering using a translation service for your documents or website, in particular, you should be aware of these technologies to make an informed decision.

We’re all familiar with Google Translate and have probably used it at one point or another. But do we really know what’s behind it and what the language industry makes of automated translation tools? If you’re an individual or a company stakeholder considering using a translation service for your documents or website, in particular, you should be aware of these technologies to make an informed decision. I’ve been using translation technologies for two decades in my capacity as German-to-English translator, so let’s take a closer look!

What is a CAT tool, and what is a translation management system (TMS)?

A CAT (computer-aided translation or computer-assisted translation) tool is software that supports translators in preparing translations. It converts a text to be translated, segments it, and then makes these segments available for translation in its own editor.

A CAT tool comprises several subsystems. At its core is a Translation Memory (TM), which collects individual translation units in a database. During the translation process, the individual translation units, consisting of a segment of the source text and the equivalent translation in the target language, are saved. Storing the translation units ensures that translations are consistent and that the same terms are used within a text. This improves the quality of the output text.

The CAT tool divides the source text into segments such as sentences, bullet points or headings. The individual segments are then displayed to the translator in an editor window. The translator enters their translation in the corresponding segment next to or below the source text. This creates translation units that are stored in the TM, which is a bilingual database containing both the original source content and the corresponding translation. When the translator translates a similar text in the future, the program suggests existing, saved translations.

A CAT tool or Translation Memory, therefore, does not translate independently, unlike machine translation programs, but only serves to support a human translator and stores the created translations in a database. In fact, studies have shown that translators work up to 28% faster when using a CAT tool.


Advantages of a computer-assisted translation system

CAT tools thus enable faster and higher quality translations and also ensure the consistency of those translations. What’s more, CAT tools can prepare and segment a wide variety of file formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, Open Office files, and even XML files. This allows translators to process certain file types even if they don’t have the original software in which they were created, e.g. InDesign.

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